United Nations peace observers have been caught up in the latest violence in Syria. One of their cars traveling in a convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. None of the monitors were injured.
Dozens of people were killed across Syria on Tuesday as the violence intensified in parts of the country despite the presence of United Nations observers to monitor the implementation of an internationally backed peace plan.
Some of the observers themselves were caught up in the violence on Tuesday, with their car being struck by a bomb in the central town of Khan Sheikhoun.
"The UN Mission in Syria reports that shortly after 2:00 p.m. local time today, a (UN) convoy of four vehicles was struck by an explosion from an improvised explosive device," a spokesman for UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan said in a statement. "Three UN vehicles were damaged. No UN personnel were injured."
The incident is reported to have occurred just minutes after government forces opened fire on a funeral procession causing numerous casualties. Some have estimated the death toll from the attack to be as high as 20. This figure could not be independently confirmed.
"This is a real massacre and it took place in the presence of UN observers," Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. He also called for an international investigation into the incident and for the observers to be called on to testify.
Fadi al-Yassin, an Idlib-based activist, told the Associated Press that the blast struck the front of one of the clearly marked white UN vehicles just after gunmen had opened fire on the mourners.
"Everyone ran in panic but the observers stayed in the car. People tried to talk to them but they wouldn't even open their windows," he said.
More observers on the way
The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a bloody crackdown on dissent, which began early last year with demonstrations calling for political change.
The UN observer mission now has more than 200 monitors on the ground in Syria. They are meant to monitor the compliance of both government troops and rebel forces with a cease-fire brokered by Kofi Annan several weeks ago.
The UN Security Council has approved a mission of as many as 300 observers, and a spokeman said it would likely reach that number by the end of this month. The cease-fire is part of Kofi Annan's internationally backed six-point plan, which aims to restore peace to the country.
pfd/sej (AP, Reuters,dpa)